We need to talk about mum and dad

John Deeks: We’re talking health with one of Australia’s favourite comedians and author of We Need To Talk About Mum and Dad, the wonderful Jean Kittson.

Jean is an author, public speaker, actor, comedian, script writer of stage, television, theater and radio and extraordinarily nice person as well. I didn’t know that Jean is the patron of the Palliative Care Nurses Australia, ambassador for the Macular Disease Foundation, Australian Gynecological Cancer Foundation, the Raise Foundation youth services, founding director of National Cord Blood Bank, chair of the Australian Gynecological Cancer Foundation. And founding ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia. 

Now, Jean’s first book, You’re Still Hot, was a wonderful starter for menopause and also a bestseller. She’s written a new book called We Need To Talk About Mum and Dad.

Jean Kittson: Hello John, how are you? Hello Janelle lovely to be on your show.

JD: You must be 140 years old.

JK: Oh look, I’m just so, so busy.

JW: You must be!

JK: They’re all fantastic organisations and I do whatever I can for them, but they don’t ask me to do a lot, but I’m just very, very happy to be associated with them and do what I can. You know, some of them are for youths, some of them are for cancer, some of them palliative care nurses. They were instrumental in me actually writing this book.

JD: Why did you write it Jean?

JK: I found that there are a lot of people my age who were going through menopause, who had kids still at home and then had elderly parents they were trying to work out what to – how to look after them in the best way possible. And we were all going through this and anguishing about our elderly parents making the right decisions. Because at this stage of life, you feel you have this enormous responsibility not to put them in a position where they’re less happy, less well, more lonely, anything like that. You really don’t want to make any mistakes when you try to help them.

JW: Jean, it seems to me the, you almost need a degree in aged care information to find your way through this system. So your book is so valuable, because it’s such in a good plain English. It must have taken you a long time to find out all the information that you have included in your book.

JK: It did. It took me about four years to write this book. One, because I was going on this journey with my mum and dad at the same time, and in that four years we’ve had broken hips, broken femur, a stroke and frozen shoulder. Mum says, “the last five years of your life are like first five years”. Everything changes really quickly and it can. So it has taken me a while, and the research, my first draft was about 150,000 words long I have to say, because there was so much information. Then we had the royal commission into aged care, safety and quality. And I hard all the stories people were telling me about their terrible situations, things that had happened with their parents – mostly who are no longer with us. I didn’t need to include them any more because the public were hearing all those stories. So we were all hearing these awful stories about what could happen and if you weren’t, you know, hypervigilant and there wasn’t the right regulations and oversight. So I could take all those stories out, and then I realised I don’t actually have to provide all the answers to everyone’s questions, but just steer everyone in the direction where they can find the answers easily. Because, you’re right, navigating bureaucracies is like cutting through a jungle of red tape and jargon.

JW: Yes, and as you say towards the back of the book, you’ve got explainers for all the acronyms that you’re going to come across. But, but my next question is, does it need to be that complicated? I find that the thought of having to navigate my way through this system is just too hard.

JK: Well, it is hard. What you think will take one hour, will take three hours, everything changes. For many people, it’s the first time they’ll ever have to deal with Centrelink and places like that. So you just have to learn how to do it, how to manage it. There are golden rules in there, you know, like you just have to be very patient. First of all, get a notebook, write down every time you ring anyone. What they say. If they say fill out a form, get the number of the form because there’s thousands of forms. I was going to say millions. It’s probably millions of forms and documents, but they’ll give you a reference number and just make a note of that reference number because you just never want to lose that reference number. Write everything down. That’s my biggest tip.

JW: So if there’s nobody like you in the family that’s looking after the parents and you’re trying to do it solo, you basically up the creek. Are you?

JK: No, no, not at all. It is manageable and there’s some great people that you can actually ask for help. So, depending on what your budget is and what your finances are like, you can get help from all sorts of people and they will navigate it for you. So I suppose one of the key things you need to know is what sort of financial position your parents or your loved one or yourself are in, and sort out that. So you know exactly where you stand financially. Because every component of aged care comes with a financial element. So you need to know where you stand. And also, people want you to stay in your own home. The government wants you to stay in your own home. So get an assessment for a home-care package. And there’s, you know, the different levels depending on what your needs are. So you can stay in your own home for a long time. Mum and dad, mum’s on a level three and dad’s on a level two and they get, they don’t have any personal care cause they can look after themselves still at the age of 95 and 93.

JD: Wow.

JK: Yes. So they look after their own showering but now they get help with making the bed and they get help with shopping and cleaning.

JW: But probably the confidence that you’ve been able to give them has helped them to stay in their own home and, and remain independent.

JD: Were they open to the help that you gave them and are giving them Jean?

JK: Oh there’s always resistance. You must always, you must always make sure it sounds like their decision. If you go in all guns blazing and banging drums and saying this has to be done, your elders will put up a resistance. I mean they’ll be worse than teenagers. And really it’s not your place and it is their decision. 

My mum has terrible trouble hearing and my dad also on the phone, and also they can’t understand when people are speaking jargon if it’s a government department or, you know, anyone. So our elders need an advocate and that’s what you are. You’re their advocate. You’re not their keeper. They just told you, you’re speaking on their behalf and you’re slowly putting things in place, but you must start putting things in place because you know there’s a wait list for all this help. And then you have to, you know, make sure you read the fine print. If you’re there while they’re moving, say they’re moving to a retirement village, read the fine print. Make sure you read what their terms and conditions are and the cost. These are all really important things, and I know because we didn’t do that, you know, I thought they were just standard agreement and so you just sign them. Much of what’s in the book, I learnt the hard way by making mistakes.

JW: So you’re well set up? Your kids don’t need to do anything for you. You can do it all for yourself?

JK: I’m well set up.

JD: Yeah. Say here kids, here’s the book. Mum wrote this and you’ll like this. Jean Kittson, this is sensational. And let me just say on the side, Cook has given you some wonderful little cartoons and they are so relevant and poignant. They really are just fantastic.

JK: The cartoons by my husband, you know full transparency, Patrick Cook, are brilliant.

JD: Pam McMillan Australia have put out the book, pick it up, have a look at it and you will want to take it home with you. Everything you need to know about supporting ageing parents from Jean Kittson and let me tell you, this is just a sensational book. Congratulations Jean. No doubt will be another best-seller.

JK: Thank you. Thank you very much to both of you for having me speak. And when, when they do pick it up may I just add um, you just dip into it. You just need to stay a chapter ahead.

JW: Exactly. It’s strategies for certain times.

JD: And Australia is very lucky because if your mum and dad are in their 90s, then we have many more years to have Jean Kittson in our world and we need you. Thank you very much.